Local News

Road rage sparks SWAT standoff

— A 10 p.m. Friday road-rage incident turned into a SWAT team standoff that lasted until Saturday morning.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Nell Hays said Saturday that a Lorida man in a vehicle chased another vehicle to Lorida General Store on U.S. 98.

Shawn Zeigler, of 2613 Hacienda Drive, Lorida, and his passenger, Carrie Leaphart, same address, got out, but Thomas Gerald Watson “continued to accelerate toward the vehicle,” Hays said.

Watson’s vehicle struck Ziegler’s vehicle. “Watson continued to follow the pair, ultimately hitting Zeigler with his vehicle,” Hays said.

Paramedics responded to the scene. Ziegler’s “injuries were significant enough that he was flown out to a hospital,” Hays said. “He is in serious but stable condition.”

Then the first driver went home to 658 Racoon Lane, in a quiet neighborhood that borders Lake Istokpoga.

Deputies knocked. “No one would come to the door,” Hays said.

“He barricaded himself inside his house,” Hays said, “and this continued throughout the night.”

Although his wife was inside too, Hays did not believe it was a hostage situation.

“He’s crazy,” said a neighbor, and added that the man had threatened another neighbor.

While waiting for a warrant to enter the home, deputies were told the man might be armed. For the safety of the neighborhood, they decided to wait for the SWAT team, which arrived at 5:45 a.m. Saturday.

Around 9:30 a.m., next-door neighbors were escorted into the armored SWAT truck and evacuated to a block away.

At 10 a.m., the warrant arrived, and the SWAT team approached the residence.

“The subject did give up, and was taken into custody,” Hays said.

Watson, 54, was arrested on two counts of attempted first degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. He was being held in the Highlands County Jail as of Saturday afternoon.

Hays asked witnesses or anyone with more information to contact Detective Brian Van Fleet at 863-381-2684. To remain anonymous, call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS(8477) or www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com.